ALEC Community Days
THE KEY COMPONENTS OF COMMUNITY DAYS
ALEC recommends that all First Responders complete the ALEC Training before holding a Community Day. The information gained from the training will provide them with communication techniques and appropriate interventions to enable them to better interact with individuals with Autism and other developmental disabilities.
Community Days are typically run for two hours on a Saturday or Sunday. The events are intended to be for residents of the town who are diagnosed with Autism or other developmental disability and their families. It is NOT open to the general public. By keeping it an “invitation-only” event, it reduces the level of noise and stimulation that can be present at an open house for the general public. The intent is to make it as pleasant an experience as possible.
At the event, families should be educated as to their roles in speaking to their children about their local First Responders and the importance of developing safety plans. The Social Stories and Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) that are provided to families at a Community Day event should be taken home and reviewed. This is essential, as all First Responders trained through ALEC will know how to use PECS with individuals during emergency situations. The more exposure the individual has to these pictures/icons prior to an incident, the better the First Responder will be able to assist the individual.
GUIDE TO PLANNING A COMMUNITY DAY
- Select a town in which to hold a community day.
- Contact the Fire Department located in that town to see if they have received training through ALEC. ALEC recommends that trainings be completed by the Fire Department before holding a Community Day to better prepare First Responders with specific interventions and communication techniques for working with individuals with Autism and other developmental disabilities.
- Set up a date to hold a Community Day at the Fire Station. Support Centers and the local Firehouse should work collaboratively to plan the event.
- Firehouse personnel will be responsible for having police representatives on hand. Have a police cruiser come so the individuals can sit in the car and look at the police equipment.
- Ask the Firehouse to have an ambulance available and open to the guests. This gives the individuals an opportunity to be exposed to emergency vehicles in a fun environment and on their own terms, which in turn better prepares them in the event of a real emergency.
- It is important to have at least one fire truck available for the individuals to enter. They are then able to see what it is like on a truck, the different parts, components, and equipment, etc.
- Ask the Firehouse to have a Firefighter come out in his regular uniform. Once the individuals are acclimated to the Firefighter in his uniform, have him put on his Firefighting gear. Leave the helmet and facemask until last. It lets them see that it is still the person under the helmet and mask. Some individuals may want to touch and try the gear on themselves. Explain that the special coat, hat and mask help keep the Firefighter safe when he has to fight a fire.
- Be sure to have representatives from the local Support Center present at the Community Day. Many of the Support Centers know the families they serve very well and can make them feel comfortable by being there.
- Support Centers should contact the ALEC program to obtain appropriate supplies for the Community Day. ALEC has a variety of Social Stories addressing the experiences of a Community Day as well as Picture Exchange Communication Symbols (PECS) to distribute to families at the event. These PECS are the same materials that are given to First Responders at the ALEC training.
- On the day of the event, the representatives from the local Support Center will be responsible for sharing information with the families regarding safety planning and discussing the Social Stories about First Responders. They can help with the distribution of the PECS icon packets and ensure that that families realize the importance of familiarizing their children with these symbols that may be used in an emergency situation.
- Remember that Community Days are only for individuals with Autism or other developmental disabilities living in the town. The event should not be open to the general public, as the over stimulation that may arise from additional guests visiting the Firehouse can be overwhelming.
- The goal of the Community Day is two-fold. 1. First Responders get the opportunity to meet the individuals with developmental disabilities who live in the community they serve. 2. Individuals with developmental disabilities get the opportunity to meet the First Responders and have exposure to the emergency vehicles and equipment that may be used on a call. The more familiarity and exposure First Responders and individuals with developmental disabilities have with each other along with a knowledge of the emergency equipment used in crisis situations the more comfortable everyone will be.